Which Bible translations are most preferable for citing on SE for asking the questions? And which are bad to refer to?
The short answer is: whichever you want.
Most of us agree* that there exists neither a single correct translation nor an absolute hierarchy of good to bad translations, although some may be more useful than others depending on the context. I have yet to see anyone condemned on BH.SE for using a sub-standard translation in a question. A few related observations:
- This question elicited several answers that offer guidance on the strengths and weaknesses of specific translations as well as an overview of the relevant factors to consider when deciding which translation to use for a particular purpose.
- Regardless of your choice, it is important to properly cite the translation to which you refer.
- If you’re comfortable interacting with the original language, it’s reasonable to include it as well (in which case a specific manuscript or critical text should also be cited). If you’re not, this is probably best left for answers.
- If you’re very comfortable with the original language, your own translation is also acceptable. Just make this explicit.
- In my view, “minimal research effort” for a question about the meaning of a passage in translation includes at least a glance through other available English translations. This can be helpful both for formulating the question more effectively and for deciding which translation is appropriate for your purpose.
To your second question, “which are bad?” — I suggest that even the "free" or "atypical" translations (see Davïd's answer for examples) have some value and are on topic for discussion here, both for evaluation of translation choices and as a starting point for exegesis. If you choose a translation that isn’t the best suited to analyze your question, someone will (hopefully) point this out in an answer and offer other options.
*Correct me if I'm wrong....
Besides the salient points presented by Susan I would only add that there is frequently a close link between questions and translations—more so than many people realize. For greatest clarity you should ask your questions quoting the translation in which you ran across the issue. The subtlety of what you got hung up on or what line of reasoning it brought out is often the result of specific translation choices and knowing what you were referencing is often valuable to know while constructing answers that attempt to resolve the issue. Even when the question is not directly about a single word choice, what translation you were using helps to define a baseline.
Depending on the question answers may or may not choose to stick with the same translation or expose you to variants to help bring clarity, but knowing where you as a questioner are coming from is usually helpful.
This post began in as a "personal" attempt at classification, but it should be regarded as open to community editing.
This is a taxonomy of the English bible versions available at BibleGateway.com,* all of which are available for easy linking, citation, and consultation. This listing groups "like" translation types together, and goes from most literal (top) to most "free" (bottom), finishing with the list of "unclassified" that either have some uncertainainty about where they fit into this "taxonomy", or which are not well enough known to classify as yet.†
* There are some good "mainstream" translations not available on BibleGateway, in particular the Revised English Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, as well as the Tanakh for the (English) Hebrew Bible. This post is about text-citing on BH.SE, though, and I'm assuming that BibleGateway is one of the de facto standard sites for this purpose.
† N.b. Community members who feel confident classifying these versions should feel free to do so.
Those interested in finding out more about these versions should consult the version information at BibleGateway (where available), or the fairly reliable and informative entries at Michael Marlowe's "Bible Research" English Bibles entries.
A more scholarly approach to classifying literalness and freedom in Bible translation can be found in the standard work by Eugene Nida, Toward a Science of Translating: With Special Reference to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translating (Brill, 1964; reprinted 2003). Despite its age, it is still very much worth consulting.
"Transparency" to the underlying original language text tends to be the goal of these versions
- Young's Literal Translation (YLT)
- Lexham English Bible (LEB)
- New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The KJV tradition
The KJV and its descendents -- which include the Revised Versions and their modern incarnations -- all privilege source text over target language.
- King James Version (KJV)
- Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
- New King James Version (NKJV)
- 21st Century King James Version (KJ21)
- American Standard Version (ASV)
- Revised Standard Version (RSV) Apocrypha
- Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
- World English Bible (WEB)
N.B. the NRSV is in this "tradition", but is noticeably less "literal" that its predecessors.
- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Apocrypha
- New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA) Apocrypha
- New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)
- New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
Literate "fresh" translations
These are not in the "Revised" tradition, but are fresh renderings. The NET gets a lot of attention on BH.SE (in part for its unusually full textual notes); the HCSB is unjustly overlooked - the peril of designating via publisher name?
- International Standard Version (ISV)
- Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
- Jubilee Bible 2000 (JUB)
- New English Translation (NET Bible)
Became a kind of de facto standard in broad swathes of evangelical churches in particular. Known for its "dynamic" ease of reading.
- New International Version (NIV)
- New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
- New International Reader's Version (NIRV) [n.b. a "simplified" NIV]
These are a mixed bag. Some (GNT and NLT in particular) are quite well done for their target audiences (non-native speakers, children).
- Good News Translation (GNT) Apocrypha
- Contemporary English Version (CEV)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
- Living Bible (TLB)
- Common English Bible (CEB) Apocrypha
- J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS) NT
Not "normal" translations
These are "atypical" in some way - see notes attached to each version listed.
- Amplified Bible (AMP) : The AMP crops up from time to time, as it bungs in several meanings per word, attempting thereby to convey some of the nuances of the original. But that's not really how language "works", and it has limited value for citation on BH.SE.
- The Message (MSG) : According to the Publisher's FAQ, "It is probably most accurately called a 'translation of tone' or a 'paraphrase from the original languages.' ... It's not meant to replace your current version of choice. Rather, it is designed as a reading Bible that can give you a fresh perspective on a familiar phrase or passage. It's written in the kind of language that you would use to write a letter to a friend."
- Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
- Darby Translation (DARBY)
- Disciples’ Literal New Testament (DLNT) NT
- Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA) Apocrypha
- Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
- Expanded Bible (EXB)
- 1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)
- GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)
- Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament (MOUNCE) NT
- Names of God Bible (NOG)
- New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
- New Century Version (NCV)
- New Life Version (NLV)
- Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
- The Voice (VOICE)
- Worldwide English (New Testament) (WE) NT
- Wycliffe Bible (WYC)